The first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has introduced us to one of its key antagonists: the Flag-Smashers. There has been much secrecy around Erin Kellyman’s character, who we see here as their potential leader. In the credits, she’s revealed to be Karli Morgenthau, a femme version of the classic Flag-Smasher alter ego Karl Morgenthau. We’ve written about the comic book origins of the crew before, but a couple of deep cut Easter eggs in the episode got us thinking of an even cooler route. Namely, her identity as Nomad. It’s one that could hint at redemption for Karli and an unexpected connection to Bucky Barnes.
“I have a sister.”
During his forced date, Bucky reveals that he had a sister. This is a really obscure bit of comic book lore that began with a 1991 Marvel Holiday Special one-shot. This story is called “Precious Gifts,” and was written by Len Kaminski—who gets a shoutout in the first episode via Bucky’s amends book—and drawn by Ron Lim.
The plot featured Steve Rogers’ discovery that his old pal Bucky had a sister, Rebecca Barnes. Cap and the elderly Rebecca connected over Christmas and ended up sharing a family dinner; it’s a sweet story. This was years before Bucky returned in The Winter Soldier comics, leaving Rebecca as the only living member of the Barnes family.
A few years after this brief debut, fans would meet another character who shared that name. During the outrageous 1996 Heroes Reborn event, Rob Liefeld and Jeph Loeb introduced a new version of Rebecca “Rikki” Barnes. While she wasn’t Bucky’s sister in this version, their shared surname hinted at a familial connection. Raised by her grandparents in Philadelphia, the heroine became a sidekick to Captain America. Her brother John became embroiled in the World Party, a political movement secretly led by racist villain Master Man. She encountered Cap while trying to rescue John from the fringe group.
Simply put: there’s a version of Captain America comic book lore that introduces Rebecca Barnes as a hero who takes on the Bucky mantle and later another famed heroic title. But we’ll get to that later…
What came next for Rikki Barnes?
Heroes Reborn soon wrapped up but Rikki’s story kept going. She formed a group called the Young Allies on her Counter-Earth and continued to fight the good fight. But she was later killed in action. The character was dormant until the 2007 Onslaught Reborn event. There she managed to cross over from her reality into the main Marvel 616 (or Prime Earth) continuity. Her adventures with this new reality were chronicled in backups in the main Captain America title as well as her own Nomad miniseries.
The mantle of Nomad originated with Steve Rogers when he renounced the Captain America name in the ’70s. Then, in the ’80s, it was taken up by Jack Monroe, the Bucky of the ’50s who was later reimagined as a ’90s anti-hero. (Keeping up?) As the modern Nomad, Rikki teamed up with the spider-powered Araña and even sought out the John Barnes of her new reality. After a series of multiversal adventures including her apparent death, Rikki returned to the Prime Earth in the Future Foundation series, a Fantastic Four spinoff comic.
What does this have to do with Karli?
Technically nothing… yet. But we think there could be a version of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier that puts Karli in Rikki’s shoes. It was very interesting to hear Bucky reference his sister and to see Kaminski get name-dropped. Aside from editing Nomad in the ’90s, the writer’s only impact on Bucky was the introduction of his sister. Which is intriguing to say the least…
It could simply be that they felt the mention of her warranted a small nod. But the other option is that they’re carving out a Rebecca “Rikki” Barnes story of their own. Of course, in this version, his sister would be far too old to become a sidekick. But what if she’d had a kid? And what if that kid had their own kid? And that kid was Karli Morgenthau? We’ve seen Karli in intimate conversation with an older man. Could she, like Rikki, have been drawn into contact with the Flag-Smashers by her brother?
It could be as simple as just a gender-swapped Flag-Smasher, but Kellyman is great and we’re hoping that she’s a little more than a villain with a noble cause. Plus, Rikki is pretty much the only young woman in Captain America comic book lore. We also get a reference to Captain America #605 which features a Rikki Barnes backup story. The echoes of Rikki’s story in what we’ve seen of Karli so far along with nods to Bucky’s sister, Rikki, and Rebecca Barnes’ creator make us think this potential heroic arc for Karli isn’t too out of the realm of possibility. And they’re both gingers… just saying.
Family means everything
Then there’s the fact that themes of family and legacy are strong in the Captain America films. Sharon and Peggy, Steve and Peggy, Steve and Bucky, Steve and Sam. Sam’s family has already become a main thrust of this new show. But Bucky has never gotten to have a family of his own. Building on that and adding a personal connection to Karli would make a lot of sense. She may even be there to rescue a family member of her own. Plus, Bucky’s going to likely be forgiving of her questionable actions as a member of the Flag-Smashers. Being a trained killer who was an assassin for 80 years will do that to you.
Could Karli become Nomad?
Being involved with and possibly even leading an organization that wants to return to a world without borders seems like a pretty good reason to call yourself Nomad. In the first episode, there’s even Easter egg that may reference Steve’s return to the Cap in #184 mantle after his stint as Nomad. Then there’s the fact Nomad was known as “The Girl Without a World,” which all sounds very fitting. And also leans towards the possibility of multiverse shenanigans. After all, Rikki was an alt-universe character originally.
With the addition of Baron Zemo to the show’s antagonists, we may even see Karli join with our heroes to challenge him. For now, this is all hypothetical. But as we continue to put all our Easter eggs into a basket, it’ll be interesting to see how many lead back to Rebecca “Rikki” Barnes and her heroic history.